At 8pm on Thursday 19th September at Shakespeare’s on Gibraltar Street, Sheffield, I’ll be launching my first full-length book of poetry, West North East. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been on the brink before, but previous deals fell through when publishers lost public funding. Longbarrow Press has no public funding to lose: it’s properly independent. It’s a significant moment for Longbarrow too – being the first hardback book the press has produced.
Editor and publisher Brian Lewis has worked hard to carry forward the design values that have made his pamphlets and objects a counter to the standard market. The cover, layout and pagination are intended to be an extension of the book’s ideas and aesthetics. I know this because Brian involved me in the process: my ideas were absorbed and respected. The design of West North East as an object is in some part collaborative. Of course, Brian has an eye and technical expertise that I don’t; and Brian has spent the thousand hours on the computer doing the job.
The launch will focus on readings from each section of the book. I’ve recruited Angelina Ayers, Andrew Hirst, Helen Mort, Fay Musselwhite and Karl Riordan to help me bring to life some of the voices in West North East. They are all poets I admire and they read poetry the way I enjoy it – skilfully but naturally, and tinted with accent. Together we’ll create a fugue of voices that brings out the modulations of pitch, tone and register – the tensions and relationships between worlds and predicaments. Brian Lewis will fill some gaps between poems with ambient noise: echoes and textures of the soundscapes the voices speak within and against.
‘Fugue’ will involve five distinct voices; ‘Edgelands’ and ‘Chinese Lanterns’ will be presented as duets. My intention is to highlight key strands woven into the voice-thread of each sequence. ‘Edgelands’ will dramatize a movement from introspection to absorption. In ‘Chinese Lanterns’ I will be taking the part of Li Po, while Andrew Hirst will slip in and out of the cross-cutting voices of Tu Fu, Confucius, and the Japanese tanka master, Musō Soseki.
The Russian theorist Mikhail Bahktin famously described the novel as fundamentally polyphonic (multi-voiced); poets as diverse as Browning, Eliot and Peter Reading have proved that poetry, too, can be a staging ground for different social perspectives and points of view. Frequently, poetry offers this in compressed form and with the addition of a musical principle. Polyphony, compression and musicality will be the guiding principles of our launch experiment. This kind of thing has been done before, of course; but never by me.
The gods of hospitality and artistic integrity will be observed. Those of you who came to my Lost Between Stations launch and enjoyed the cakes and buns on offer may be pleased to know that Ruth will be offering similar enticements for West North East. We all hope to see you there.
The Shakespeare pub is approximately 5-10 minutes’ walk from Shalesmoor and Cathedral tram stops. Click here for further location details on their website. Admission to the West North East launch is free; all welcome. The event will take place upstairs (turn left at the bar) and will begin at 8pm prompt (you are welcome to join us from 7.30pm).